Lakas governor candidate in Batangas gunned down
- Arnell Ozaeta, Joe Leuterio, Rene Alviar () - May 8, 2001 - 12:00am
BATANGAS — The Lakas-NUCD candidate for governor of this province was fatally shot by a lone assassin shortly after speaking in a campaign rally in Tuy town past midnight yesterday, police said.

The New People’s Army (NPA) claimed responsibility for the killing of Cesar Platon, but authorities have doubts and are looking deeper into other motives, including a "love angle."

President Arroyo ordered Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Leandro Mendoza to immediately solve the case.

"While we accept the NPA’s claim, we are actually (looking into) other leads," Mendoza said.

The killing of Platon, incumbent mayor of Tanauan town, is the latest campaign violence ahead of congressional and local elections on May 14.

Platon had descended from a stage after addressing a miting de avance in Tuy town when the assassin shot him at close range at least three times in the head with a caliber .45 pistol, police said.

Platon, reports said, spoke at the Lakas-NUCD rally held inside a covered basketball court after attending the birthday party of Tuy Mayor Raquel Rowena Rodriguez Sunday night.

After delivering his speech at about 10 minutes past midnight, Platon went to a nearby rolling store to buy popcorn. There, the still unidentified gunman pumped bullets into his head.

Police found three empty .45 shells and two slugs in the crime scene.

Platon, three-term mayor of Tanauan and provincial president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, was pitted against re-electionist Gov. Hermilando Mandanas of the Reporma party of on-leave Executive Secretary Renato de Villa.

Lakas-NUCD and Reporma are both under the umbrella of the People Power Coalition (PPC). The two member-parties earlier agreed that the incumbent (Mandanas) would be the PPC standard bearer.
NPA admission
The NPA immediately claimed responsibility for the killing. In a radio interview, Tirso Alcantara, spokesman of the Melito Glor Command, accused Platon of alleged human rights violations and involvement in criminal activities.

Chief Inspector Dionisio Paltado, police chief of Tuy town, however, downplayed the NPA’s accusations as he vouched for Platon’s clean record.

The NPA is active in Batangas, which is situated near the rebels’ mountain strongholds.

SPO3 Pablo de la Vega, the investigator handling the case, said that Platon’s men recently arrested an alleged member of the NPA’s "collection team" while receiving "revolutionary tax" from a local trader.

Chief Superintendent Domingo Reyes Jr., Southern Tagalog police director, however, ordered the Batangas police, headed by Superintendent Rolando Lorenzo, to dig deeper into Platon’s killing as he himself cast doubts on the NPA’s role in it.

Some sectors also doubted whether the killing was the rebels’ handiwork. A Lakas-NUCD official in Tanauan, who refused to be named, said Platon was a "charismatic and highly popular political figure" in Batangas, citing his having been unbeaten for three terms as Tanauan mayor.

Chief Superintendent Nestorio Gualberto, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said initial investigation tended to show that a gun-for hire, not a communist hit man, killed Platon.

"The murder was not perpetrated by the rebels nor was it politically motivated, but due to jealousy," said Gualberto, hinting that a "love triangle" was involved.
Slay condemned
Platon’s Lakas-NUCD party mates, led by his running mate, Peter Laurel, condemned the killing.

Mandanas also condemned his rival’s assassination, and ordered that Philippine flags throughout the province be flown in half-mast for nine days.

For his part, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita said the killing was "really shocking and surprising because we were just in the rally where the incident took place."

"In my (entire) political career, this is the first time (such a killing) happened in my district," he said. Ermita’s daughter Aileen is seeking to succeed him in the first congressional district.

Platon, who also chaired the Southern Tagalog Regional Boy Scouts of the Philippines Development Foundation, was widely believed to be giving Mandanas a tough fight in the gubernatorial race.

Reyes ordered tighter security for political candidates and intensified operation of checkpoints to thwart more poll-related violence in the region. With Marichu Villanueva, Jaime Laude

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